When Your Better Half Is Blue: Couples Counseling And Depression

2 April 2015
 Categories: , Articles


When you got married, friends and family members were probably full of advice. Perhaps they advised you about the rough roads the two of you might have to travel further down the marriage journey, and, preoccupied with seating arrangements, cake, and flowers, you brushed their comments aside. However, you and your spouse are now traversing one of those rough roads of marriage--depression--and have spun off into a ditch. How can you tell if your spouse is depressed? How does this disorder affect a marriage? Can couples counseling help you get back on the road?

Facts about depression

Depression is the most common mental disorder in the world, affecting 16 million Americans and 350 million people worldwide. Women are 70% more likely to experience an episode of depression than are men, and 14% of women will become depressed after having a baby (this is called postpartum depression). Half of the people in this country who are depressed do not seek treatment for their sadness, despite the fact that depression is highly amenable to a combination of counseling and anti-depressant medication. Depression's reach stretches further than just the person suffering its effects; taxpayers and businesses are also affected, to the tune of 80 billion dollars annually in lost productivity and the costs of treatment.

How do you know if your spouse is depressed?

Depression doesn't affect everyone the same way, so you may not realize your spouse fits its clinical picture. Here are some common symptoms your spouse may display:

  • pervasive sadness

  • irritability or outbursts of anger

  • change in appetite or eating habits (eating/sleeping more or less than usual)

  • inability to make simple decisions

  • confusion or "foggy-headed"-ness

  • loss of interest in usual activities

  • reckless, uncharacteristic behavior

  • drug/alcohol use

  • disparaging statements about self

  • statements indicating you would be better off without him/her

As you can see, your spouse may appear sad and lethargic, or angry and withdrawn. He/she may come home drunk in the middle of the night, spend a shocking amount of money, or be paralyzingly indecisive about a job opportunity. Only a counseling professional can accurately diagnose depression.

How does depression affect a marriage?

Depression profoundly affects the health of a marital relationship. Because the two of you are meant to go through life as a team, when one partner is crippled by this disorder the front crumbles. While the affected spouse suffers internally, the other suffers the fallout. Disagreements become commonplace, division occurs on significant life issues, and divorce can loom up ahead. You feel powerless; your spouse feels hopeless.

How can couples counseling help?

You might think of couples counseling as helpful for negotiating chores, resolving family/career decisions, or addressing infidelity. But it is also critical to helping you get through the rough road of depression with your marriage intact. Successful couples counseling for depression will include

  • identifying what areas of your marriage are most affected by your spouse's depression

  • allowing you to express your feelings without fear of hurting your spouse's feelings

  • examining communication styles

  • finding solutions to pressing conflicts

  • restoring understanding of each other's perspectives

The success of your couples counseling experience will hinge on your spouse's concurrent involvement in individual depression treatment. This way, as your spouse explores and resolves the reasons for his/her sadness (perhaps with additional help from antidepressant medication), the two of you can explore and resolve relationship issues together.

Depression is indeed a potential wipe-out area on the marriage journey. However, if you enter couples counseling determined to get back on the road as a team, you can indeed find smooth ground again--perhaps ready to share your wisdom with new couples in the future.